Malcolm Arnold from Adelaide, South Australia, is in Dhaka, exhibiting his paintings and sketches at Dhaka Art Centre. The exhibition runs till July 25. His watercolour and gauche paintings go hand in hand with pencil sketches. His observations are extremely minute and experimental. Arnold's art has travelled all of Australia. He has seen Aborigine art in North Australia. He has been to Cambodia, Singapore and in many Indian cities, and stayed in New Zealand for nine months.
Where did it all begin? Around 2000, says Arnold, when he was asked by Saber Hossain Chowdhury, the erstwhile president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, who came to Australia, to help Bangladesh become a test playing nation. Arnold and the Bangladeshi quickly established a rapport.
The latter invited him to Bangladesh, to put together a book illustrated with his sketches and paintings. The book, titled “Bangladesh: Sharing Moments”, is to be launched by the Australian Acting High Commissioner, Lucinda Bell. Arnold has established base in Khulna. Most often he travels beside the Sunderbans, as he paints and sketches.
Arnold's paintings of tigers are cast against the habitat of Rajasthan's Sariska National Park. The tiger itself was based on his studies of the big cat in Dhaka zoo. The birds are from his observations in the countryside of Bangladesh.
Arnold's passion for painting was sparked at a young age when his class teacher held up a print of an Australian artist, Hans Heysen. He had, as he says, “A sensation of warmth” running through him, and he decided then that his calling lay in art.
In one of his 34 paintings, the artist has been impacted by the oppression of women and girls in Bangladesh, particularly the mass-scale rape of women during the Liberation War. He has painted four women scrubbing clean a wall. They are suspended on a wooden board.
In another painting, beautifully framed like the rest, women use sledge-hammers to remove the paint, which is applied to remove the rust and undercoat of ship. The wall or fence has ferns and posters on it. At work also are women making new “kathas” from old saris. Rice is being sifted by women in blue and yellow saris.
Among his bird paintings inspired by his visits to the Bangladeshi countryside are those of a barn owl, kingfisher, bee-eater, sparrow and a scarlet minivet.
In his sketches is a riverside village on the banks of Rupsha River. Buriganga features in another piece, with the boat careering against the current. He did this from one of his photographs. Married to a Bangladeshi, Halima, Malcolm confesses to homesickness once in a while. He has a beautiful grandchild and plans to build a home for himself and his family.